The Difference between a Teacher and a Coach

by Karen Boskemper, PCC, Co-Leader of The Mentor Coaching Group, and ICF Assessor

Apple to OrangeI was recently reading a Facebook post by spiritual teacher, educator and writer, Nithya Shanti (, whose life work is committed to supporting those who wish to awaken their natural wisdom. He shared the differences between a teacher and a guru, in which I see parallels in the difference between a teacher and a coach.

As coaches we are also engaged in awakening the client’s natural wisdom through our questions, observations, and reflections. Here are a couple of those differences from Nithya Shanti’s list and the parallels I see to being a coach: I’ve replaced where Shanti had the word ‘guru’ with the word ‘coach’ as I don’t want to imply for a moment that a coach is a guru.

A teacher reaches your mind

A coach touches your spirit

As coaches, we are always looking to get to the heart or ‘spirit’ of our clients. In The Mentor Coaching Group, we help our participants integrate the “who” and the “what” of the client into the coaching process. When we coach to the “what”, we are usually focused on helping the client solve a problem, which is more about how they think or approach a situation with their mind. We help them figure out a strategy or a plan with specific action steps that moves them towards their desired outcome.

In contrast, when we are focusing on the “who” or spirit of our client, we are helping our client identify how they might be contributing to the problem by who they are being in the process.

For example, a client might bring a “problem employee issue” to the session and through the coach’s inquiry, questions and observations, realize that he/she has been making assumptions about this person and judging them unfairly. Suddenly, the client gets clarity about how their inner being (spirit) has contributed to the situation and with the support of the coach shift into more productive ways of being and doing.

A teacher takes responsibility for your growth

A coach makes you responsible for your growth

Most growth happens outside of the coaching session when the client is practicing and implementing new skills and ideas discussed during the coaching session.

As coaches, we support that process by “assisting the client to design the best methods of accountability for her/himself” and to help the client to “hold attention on what is important for them, and leave responsibility with them to take action.” (ICF Core Competency “Designing Actions” and “Managing Progress & Accountability”)

Our role as coaches is not to take responsibility for the client by doing the work for them, but to trust the client’s ability to do it for themself. Over time, the client will stretch their capacity to grow and learn and take responsibility for their own growth and development because we allow them to find their own way, not impose our own.

A teacher answers your questions

A coach questions your answers

There are several markers in the new PCC Marker system that point to the skill of “exhibiting curiosity with the intent to learn more” and “inquires or explores how the client perceives his/her world.”

As coaches we want to explore the client’s way of thinking, feeling, and way of being in the world. Our role is to explore and be curious about what is underneath the answer the client gives us, and not provide them with what we believe is “the” answer to their questions.

For example if a client says: “They just never listen to anything we say”, you might question “who exactly is “they” and how can you be absolutely sure they “never” listen to anything you say?” Questioning is not about making the client wrong, it’s about discovering how they view the world and how their beliefs and attitudes may be contributing to their current situation.

A teacher sharpens your mind

A coach opens your mind

Giving client’s advice is always a bit of a temptation, and yes, we probably have all the tools on hand to help them sharpen their mind. Yet sharpening their mind does not necessarily expand their mind into new ways of thinking and doing.

A coach asks powerful questions that require significant thought by the client and takes the client to a new place of thinking. Suddenly, the same world appears different, full of new possibilities, insight emerges and a fundamental shift in how the client relates to the world surfaces.

In closing…

A key principle in coaching is that the client is whole and complete. They usually don’t need more education, teaching or training. If they did, they would go back to college or university.

But to grow as human beings, coaches support clients by expanding their existing knowledge and wisdom, and facilitating a thinking process that taps into their greatness (which, by the way, may be buried under the weight of everybody else’s prior teachings).

Registration for our last 3 month Mentor Coaching Group of 2014 is now open. Remaining Space is Limited!

Commencing September 9 from noon-1.30pm Eastern/NY time. Registration is limited to 7 people on a first come, first served basis.


Carly Anderson and Karen Boskemper offer an awesome mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for our participants.

One of those offerings is an extensive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching sessions for our participants to listen to, evaluate, debrief, and learn from, along with The Target Approach to demystifying the ICF core competencies. These are incredibly valuable learning tools, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions.

Here’s where you’ll find more about The Mentor Coaching Group

Carly and Karen also offer other mentoring options which you can find in the Store

4 thoughts on “The Difference between a Teacher and a Coach

  1. This is a thought-provokering article, Karen. The line about curiosity helped me with one of the characters in my new book. Being curious generates so much possibility in the conversation. If we remove “knowing” curiosity creeps in!

    Would love to see you bio at the end of your blogs! Not that I don’t enjoy reading Carly’s again!


  2. Thanks for your kind comments Holly. You are so right that practicing the “art of inquiry” keeps us away from the impulse to give advice and share our knowledge.

    Best Wishes,

  3. Thanks, Karen. As a fairly new ACC coach I continue to dance between coaching the “what” and the “who.” As an internal coach who works in HR I can certainly relate to your example about the “problem employee.” In my experience I find I need to coach the issue of the problem employee and help the client become self aware of their part in the situation.

  4. Margie, thank you for your comment.
    You are so right. When we can help the client see how they are contributing to their own problem (or the place where they feel stuck), they are have a choice on how to move forward. Often it is the client’s mindset, or belief structure that keeps them stuck in the unproductive pattern. When we can support them in cracking the code of their own thinking, and help them think beyond their current situation, or way of being, forward movement is generated by new emerging energy and insight.

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